Tejon Street Corner Thieves

When I was traveling last month, I stumbled on the Tejon Street Corner Thieves. I was on the 16th St. Mall in Denver, taking pictures of buildings and windows and alleys, when this grimy, acoustic blast crossed the street. I had one lens with me, so I cranked it open and went to work.

Forgetting genres and pop appeal, local bands seem to come in two basic flavors.

Not-that-great and awesome and hungry.

The former, well, maybe they need a new singer, or they’re fumbling for their sound. That’s most of us, by the way, still digging for that magical combination of truth and style.

Those of us who’ve mastered our art know mastery is a paradox. There you stand, on the height of the mountain, with the best damn view of the heavens. Why even climb if all you can reach for is the futility of the climb? Cause climbing and arriving both teach you humility. Cause you need to see what’s under you in order to see what’s above. And because, of course, climbing is fun.

But everyone starts at the bottom.

There are people who seem to toil for years with nothing to show for it. Some nights I find compassion, and pity them. Most nights, I’d rather go home and put on a record. I make plenty of room for artists young in the tooth—but if you want me to keep listening, you have to show me commitment and growth.

The other flavor of local musicians—the badasses—have whittled their style. They keep you up at night with the miracle of discovering them.

That’s the Tejon Street Corner Thieves.

These guys play hard, fast, technical, and soulful.

They play what they call “trashgrass,” a saltier, dirtier, bluer-than-bluegrass mountain music. And while it’s true any of them could trim the hair, put on the suit, and walk into a straight job, these boys have a different sort of pedigree. Their music is muddy, dusty, full of bones and tar. It’s been lived in. And when you see them, that’s obvious. Some things can’t be faked.

The Tejon Street Corner Thieves are the sort of band you know you were lucky you saw when you did. Sure, they’re not the next inheritors of the N-Sync legacy, so they’re not going to explode like a pox onto phones and radios. But a band this kind of hungry, with this fierce and developed a sound, touring already, is going somewhere.

And who doesn’t want to hitch a ride up that mountain?

PS: A cop asked me and the bearded gentleman if they had CDs. We immediately thought he was going to begin a long harassment process, and clutched our bags, wondering how fast we could pack. Turned out, he just wanted to buy one. Turned out, he did.

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